Chesterton Tribune

Liberty Township history heard at Duneland Historical Society

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Landon Rose Cabell of Campbell County, Virginia had vision.

The shrewd land company agent bought over 2,600 acres in Liberty Township after lands purchased from the Indians by treaties were advertised for sale at the LaPorte federal land office in 1836. Cabell’s holdings were all sold to other settlers in a matter of weeks, or even days.

The configuration of Liberty Township didn’t look as it does today. The northernmost five miles --- in which Jesse Morgan, a later Chesterton pioneer, founded the Coffee Creek settlement at Liberty’s northeastern tip --- extended to Porter Avenue. This area later became part of Westchester Township in probably 1852.

Settlements like Woodville, Coffee Creek, Zane, Salt Creek and Babcock came and went. Only LaHayne, now Crocker, remains, although it is part of Chesterton.

But the descendents of many of Liberty’s first families still live in the township, several having attended either Zane (Phares), Salt Creek or Gossett, Cole, Linderman, Johnson, Babcock, Daly or Crocker schools and later Liberty Township high school after 1913.

Tim Cole, whose ancestor Edward Cole came from Ohio with his father-in-law, John Dillingham, in 1835, is among those descendants who still call Liberty home.

Cole spent nearly 250 hours researching (“some things had not seen the light of day for many, many years”) and preparing Thursday’s talk about the township for about 50 members and guests of the Duneland Historical Society.

According to Cole, “Everything is based on history. Anybody who does not learn from history is missing a lot; they’re not learning at all. This area held so much promise, beauty and history that few of us moved away. A lot of Porter county’s history is right up here.”

Cole said four flags have flown over Liberty Township: the Spanish, French, English and United States. It’s not documented that the Spanish actually came here although they laid claim to the land; the French did establish fur trading posts, among them Joseph Bailly’s in Porter.

Indiana became a state in 1816, but a 1826 map clearly shows how little was known about Liberty Township, then heavily forested with extensive wetlands and in the hands of mostly Native Americans, Cole continued. Surveyors like Uriah Biggs in the Hebron/Kouts area made detailed observations which were contained in notebooks that legally were not to be destroyed. These contained information about traces of iron ore called bog iron that early settlers tried smelting into axes and wheel fittings.

Around 1828 surveyors began marking off sections and setting monuments in Porter County. Liberty Township’s original 1834 survey was done by William Clark and Sylvester Sibley, said Cole, who displayed a copy on the screen. There were no railroads and few marked roads, most following Indian or buffalo trails.

Among the most well-known roads were the Government Post Road from Fort Wayne that split north in Porter County to Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and south to the Mississippi River; the Michigan Road from the Ohio River to Michigan; a road from north of what would be Valparaiso to Michigan City; the Chicago-to-Detroit trail; and Indian Boundary Line road, at one time the boundary between Indiana and Michigan, said Cole.

He also praised Greening Road as significant, scenic and one of the oldest in the county. Indians were said to walk single file for 2 1/2 days on their way to Detroit to get gifts from the British.

Following an 1836 government treaty, the Indians were given two years to move west, said Cole, but not all of them left and some of those who did returned. Indians, especially the peaceful Pottawatomie, bought or acquired land and settled for a time in Liberty Township. Cole’s own relatives recalling playing with their children.

Cole recounted a tale that the Pottawatomie were good-natured but at times curious to the point of walking in settlers’ homes, rifling through the cupboards, tasting food and one time walking away with a pot. “It’s not that they were thieves,” said Cole. “They just had a different idea of property.”

1836 also saw Jesse Morgan, who had lived in LaPorte County, and Richard Clark named Liberty Township overseers of the poor. Daniel Lyons was constable. Between 1833-1836 several other pioneers bought land in Liberty. A miller, William Gossett dammed up Salt Creek creating a pond 1 1/2 miles long on the township’s west central side where the community of Salt Creek grew up around it for a time.

Cole said he has a receipt from 1856 for bolts of cloth sold at the Salt Creek dry goods store. The pond was drained in the early 1900s and U.S. 6 was built near it.

As land was bought and settled, children needed to attend school. There were eight active one- or two-room schools in Liberty Township for almost 100 years. Cole said in 1900 J.M. Lentz, Bessie Finney, D.D. Hiestand and Alma Johnson were employed as teachers. Les Esserman, present Thursday, said in 1930 he bought a school building for $960 in a sealed bid. Esserman has a Liberty school bell and a cornerstone.

Before the first Liberty Township High School was built for about $30,000 in 1913, Cole said the township had a tuition fund to help serious students attend an area high school. Often those students would board with families at that school.

Cole said he started first grade at Linderman School in 1945 and attended five years there. After the new township high school was built in 1926-27, the younger children marched there across the road for hot lunch in the cafeteria. Cole’s most memorable school experience was using the outdoor restrooms because you had to ask the teacher for toilet paper and the whole class knew what you were about to do.

Liberty Township schools eventually became part of the Duneland School Corp.

Cole said in all his research he could not find an accurate, detailed account of how the earliest settlers cleared the land, prepared a shelter for their family, readied the fields and planted a crop, all within a span of several weeks.

“We look at these pioneers as simple people, poorly educated, without resources and blind to consequences,” he said. “The immensity of their planning and preparing overwhelms me.”


Posted 2/21/2003